Unconscious bias

How objective are your judgments and decisions?
Do you make decisions based on prejudice? I was confronted with it, while reading the following story: A father and his son are involved in a car accident. The father dies and the son is seriously injured. An ambulance arrives quickly and takes the son to the hospital. He needs a surgery to save his life. A surgeon is called in, and as soon as the surgeon sees the patient, the surgeon says ‘I can’t operate on him, because this is my son’. I am wondering what your response is.

It’s simple, the surgeon is his mother. I subconsciously thought in a stereotype, a surgeon is a man. Thinking in stereotypes is human; your brain makes a short cut that helps you, make quick decisions and judge quickly. Using bias in your decision is what we call unconscious bias.

Unconscious bias
Our unconscious biases can get in the way of a diverse and inclusive work environment and society. I also judge unconsciously, and although I know it is human, it makes me feel uncomfortable. I like to be objective and open in my judgments and decisions. But my brain controls my decisions and seems to shut out my ratio. How do I regain that control? First, it helps to consider where you have unconscious prejudices about, and where they come from. You develop prejudices throughout your life. On the one side through upbringing and the norms and values ​​you received in it, but on the other side also through the experiences you gain and through people in your environment. With all these pieces of information, our brain is able to automatically help us when we are faced with a question. That makes interpreting everything that comes your way a lot easier, but unconscious biases are lurking.

Aware of unconscious biases

You can become aware of these unconscious biases by reflecting on them by yourself. Do you recognize situations in which you quickly draw conclusions, or do you have expectations based on your own prejudices?

  • You ask a colleague with an Asian appearance where he is from; he was just born in the Netherlands.
  • You address a woman with a headscarf, because something falls from her pocket and you are surprised when 2 blue eyes look at you.
  • You have an appointment with a potential client’s marketing VP and are surprised when a petite woman welcomes you into her office.

By consciously reflecting on the assumptions you made unconsciously in these situations, you will feed your brain with new pieces of information. A few mindful seconds can make a world of difference. Talk about it with colleagues and discuss how you can challenge each other to judge and decide more objectively. Do you want to get started with your team and could you use some guidance and tools?

Do you want to know more about unconscious bias?
Please contact Mabelle Hamerling, m.hamerling@moovs.nl.

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